Pastor’s Bookshelf: Paul Was Not A Christian

Image result for paul was not a christian

I’ll preface this book summary with a simple reminder: I often read books from authors with which I might disagree. This helps me grow in my role as a pastor to be able to articulate what I do believe, as well as understand differing viewpoints. This was certainly the case (to some extent) for Paula Eisenbaum’s Paul Was Not A Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle.

To share some background, Eisenbaum is a Jewish scholar and has studied the New Testament from a non-Christian perspective. Now, obviously I differ from Eisenbaum’s religious background because I am a Christian. But she does raise several interesting historical and interpretive points in her writing. And I also find it helpful to consider non-Christian perspectives (doing so helps me articulate what I personally believe with my faith!).

Her central argument in the book is that students of the New Testament often examine Paul’s life and ministry through a completely detached perspective from the Jewish tradition. The same can also be said of how we read the four gospels, too, but that is another topic for another book (for instance, we often forget that Jesus was Jewish)! We naturally assume Paul sought to create a completely new “religion” following his encounter with Jesus in Acts. And tragically, many Christians have treated Jews with unkindness and even argue that their faith is “outdated” or some other dismissive term. Anti-semitism is common in our world, with people using stereotypes that might even be connected with harmful religious mistakes of the past.

Instead, closely reading the text will reveal that Paul was convinced of God’s constant involvement with human history. God did not change or reject Israel. Instead, God broadened the boundaries of God’s family. According to Eisenbaum’s reading of Paul, he believed that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ushered in a grand climax to the promise of God. Such a promise “began” with people like Abraham, and continued on with Moses, David, and the prophets from the Hebrew bible.

I disagreed with Eisenbaum’s writing in some areas. For instance, she kind of oversimplifies some New Testament theology. In reality, scripture does say a lot of apparent conflicting things. People have debated the true nature of covenant, law, works, and the like, and these are important debates to have. Towards the end of the book, I thought she could have done a better job of recognizing nuances. Older Pauline books like Philemon sound greatly different that books like Romans (which Paul wrote later in his career). Likewise, Paul might sound a little different depending on what passage someone reads.

I also believed Eisenbaum’s book was missing a noteworthy exploration of a key Old Testament passage: Genesis 12. In this call of Abram story, God proclaims blessing upon Abram’s family and descendants, but also talks about how they will bless all the families of the earth. I think passages like these would have further supported what Eisenbaum argued. God is intimately connected with human history. We as followers of God must always seek to share that blessing with other people.

Nevertheless, my big takeaway or “new perspective” from reading this book is that God is always looking to increase God’s family. God is always willing to draw the circle bigger, to invite more people into fellowship, and to extend salvation rather than being closed off. Eisenbaum and I might disagree with one another in regards to the nature of Christ, but she did a fantastic job of offering a unique, fresh perspective on Paul.


Being Thrown Into Hell

In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus gave his timeless teaching on how sin works in our life, using the example of adultery and lust. To refresh your memory from yesterday’s sermon, here are Jesus’ words once more:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Even though Jesus’ uses an example of hyperbole or exaggeration, these words still apply in a deeply practical way. Don’t let anything cause you to sin… It is better for you to throw it away than to suffer a terrible fate!

But what does Jesus exactly mean when he says we should avoid sin lest “your whole body to go into hell?”

Image result for hell cartoon

If you ask me, I believe that Christians have a somewhat rocky history with the idea of hell. Our beliefs about it mainly come from non-biblical sources like Dante’s Inferno, horror movies, or even cartoons. For instance, we usually imagine Satan to be a guy in a red leotard with pointy horns!

And in the religious world, some pastors might use the idea of hell to scare people into heaven. Other Christians might even threaten others with eternal damnation, treating God like a vindictive, unloving being. People often warp the very purpose of Christianity to mean a “get out of jail free” card. Christian tragically becomes an exercise of avoid hell, rather than a call to love Jesus Christ for his sake.

But when Jesus talked about hell in this passage, he had a radically different way of describing it that a scary movie. The specific word he used was Gehenna. Jesus used this word as a reference of an actual physical place near the city of Jerusalem during ancient times:

Modern day picture of the region Jesus referenced

If you happen to have a set of maps included in your bible, Gehenna might actually be included in a map of ancient Jerusalem (either that term, or the “Valley of Hinnom”).

Gehenna was an area outside of the city walls and was most likely a garbage dump during Jesus’ day. Some historians believe this was a place where ancient kings in the Old Testament would sacrifice children. While the exact history is uncertain, when Jesus pointed to Gehenna, the point was that it was a place outside the safety of the city. It was away from God’s protection and guidance. Hell (or Gehenna) meant a life outside of God’s provision and even a place of unimaginable evil and decay.

So Jesus’ picture of hell in Matthew 5 is rather illuminating. Hell as a concept of what happens after we die is another blog post for another time, but Jesus’ words teach us a lot about life here and now. To be “thrown into hell” means living a life apart from God. When we continue in sin, we place ourselves outside of God’s presence. We literally pack our bags and settle in a place of utter separation, hopelessness, and evil. We tragically make our home in a metaphorical garbage dump.

The good news of Jesus’ provocative teaching is that there is a pathway forward. We of course have the option to cling to our sinfulness… but we also have the chance to flee from unrighteousness. By throwing away that which causes us to sin, we can get closer to Christ.

The Process of a Heart Transplant

The overarching illustration I used yesterday was how our faith is a lot like a heart transplant. This was quite literally the case for Israel in Ezekiel 36. God sought to remove their hearts of stone and exchange them for a heart that could feel.

In recent years in the medical world, we have seen a lot of development with heart transplants. Patients in desperate need of a new heart can undergo this intensive surgery and hope for a good outcome. One of the things that has been the case for many years, however, is that a major intervention like a heart transplant requires a lot of preparation and followup.

In other words, chances are that a doctor would never perform a surgery without proper care in a broader sense. They need to have conversations about the problem and procedure. A patient often has to commit to lifestyle changes to prepare and ensure the donated organ is put to good use. And even after the surgery, medication, healthy diet, and exercise are needed to ensure the transplant lasts (otherwise a patient may end up being worse off and in need of another heart!). Simply having the transplant procedure by itself is never an option.

To apply this metaphor to our faith, the same is also true for how God changes us. Of course, “one-time” experiences of God can be influential in our lives. But to follow Christ means a continual process of discipleship and apostleship. We must always deepen our faith in God by allowing God to continually change our hearts. It truly is a process!

As I alluded to on Sunday, John Wesley preached quite a bit on this topic. Following God is a lifelong process. We cannot simply call it quits after praying a prayer of salvation. By following Christ, we are made new and our life has tangible differences. Wesley specifically outlined three spiritual states of being someone may go through:

1. Natural State– This signifies someone who is unaware of God. S/he does whatever they want. Here’s how Wesley describes someone in this spiritual state:

For [their] soul is in a deep sleep: [Their] spiritual senses are not awake; They discern neither spiritual good nor evil. The eyes of [their] understanding are closed; They are sealed together, and see not. Clouds and darkness continually rest upon them; for [they] lie in the valley of the shadow of death.

When we follow our natural desires apart from God’s will and plan for our life, that does not lead to a good outcome!

2. Legal State– Being aware of God, yet still struggling with sin. Wesley argued that it is imperative we come to an awareness and knowledge of who God is. Many people might describe this spiritual state of being as justification, where we are justified in Jesus Christ and made right in God’s eyes. Yet the Christian journey does not end here. Simple awareness of God is not where we ought to end up. Being in a “legal state” means we still struggle with sin and never really overcome our brokenness, even though we are awakened:

God touches the heart of [the person] that lay asleep in darkness and in the shadow of death. [That person] is terribly shaken out of [his or her] sleep, and awakes into a consciousness of his danger.

Being in a legal spiritual state means we realize that we have a sin problem.

3. Evangelical State– Knowing the love, peace, and freedom of God. The “evangelical” Christian, according to Wesley, is a follower of Christ who begins to overcome sin and surrender control to God:

Beware, then, thou who art called by the name of Christ, that thou come not short of the mark of thy high calling. Beware thou rest, not, either in a natural state with too many that are accounted good Christians; or in a legal state, wherein those who are highly esteemed of men are generally content to live and die. Nay, but God hath prepared better things for thee, if thou follow on till thou attain.

This final spiritual state means we are able to overcome sinfulness in our life with the help of God.

God has prepared “better things” for your life. Receiving a Godly heart is a lifelong process. God may touch your heart, but we always need that divine aid to let go of all those stony and calloused areas of our lives. As we allow God to change our hearts, we begin to experience that new life and wonderful creation because of Christ.

True Peace on Earth

During the Advent season in preparation for the Christmas holiday, hopefully we take time to intentionally focus more on Jesus’ birth. It is not about us or our own desires for material goods. Rather, Christmas is a celebration of God’s birthday with Jesus Christ.

One thing we often “miss” about the truth of Christmas is that the holiday is much more about generosity rather than hoarding or receiving. God was generous in giving us Christ, so we ought to be generous to other in how we dedicate our life to service. This is obviously quite countercultural in our world–just yesterday morning, one of those “news notifications” popped up on my phone warning me there are less than 48 hours of shopping left until Christmas morning! We are bombarded with the temptation to be closed off from other people, only caring about our own personal needs.

One of my favorite theologians and authors, Lee Camp, once wrote about a tragically compelling Christmas-season experience he had years ago in his book Mere Discipleship. As a reporter in the 1970s, Camp’s father-in-law would listen to the Nashville-area police scanner to find out what was going on for news stories. On Christmas Eve one night there was a report of some kind of shocking accident at a public housing unit. Initially, the police thought that an elderly man had been the victim of a homicide. But upon further investigation, it turns out the man could not afford his bills and so the electric company turned off the heating to his unit in the middle of winter. Tragically, the man froze to death that cold night. The man had no one or where to turn to for help during this financially burdensome time.

Upon leaving the apartment complex, Camp’s relative noticed a brilliant light display across the block at a fancy, well-to-do downtown high-rise building, reading “Peace on Earth.” It was such a stark contrast between the poverty of a man who didn’t have enough money for heat, compared to a heartwarming (albeit detached from the “real world”) religious message.

When we proclaim God’s peace on earth, we truly have to mean it. We need to share God’s blessings with other people. We need to reach out to neighbors in need. We need to remember that there are people who hurt during the holiday season.

In other words, we need to actually live out the angel’s message of “peace on earth” in our own lives. We must never keep this reality to ourselves.

Our bishop in the Arkanas Conference, Gary Mueller, put it this way recently for his daily Facebook devotional:

Of course you want to give that special someone the perfect Christmas gift. But why is it usually so hard to find? Maybe it’s because that person doesn’t need a thing you can buy, but love you share through just the right word of affirmation, a much needed apology, a smile of encouragement, a listening ear or a prayer of hope. Think about it. You don’t have to spend hours shopping, spend a cent or even wrap up the perfect Christmas gift. You just have to share the love God has put in your heart.

May you celebrate the peace on earth given to us by Jesus Christ… and never forget to spread that peace to other people!

God Using Brokenness

In my sermon I mentioned a unique artistic practice from Japan dealing with broken pottery. The practice is called kintsugi and literally translates to golden joinery in English. Here are some beautiful examples of this technique of repairing broken pieces with gold:

The philosophy behind this is that instead of concealing flaws, working within cracks and gaps can actually make a pot or dish more beautiful in the end result.

This practice reminded me of unique issue in faith. There’s a popular phrase that is nowhere to be found in scripture that Christians sometimes repeat (yes, sometimes Christians struggle with making up bible verses or misinterpreting ideas!). Perhaps you’ve heard of the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Too often we think we need to have our life all together for us to be useful for God’s kingdom. Maybe we even struggle with the false belief that God won’t love us if we aren’t perfect as a result of our own effort. We treat God like a disappointed parent, that God is wishing we would just get our act together.

The truth is that God uses the idea of kintsugi on us. We are like a broken plate or bowl, shattered into several pieces. But instead of throwing us away and trying again to make something better, God picks up the mess in our life and can still use it for the redeeming work of Christ.

The Christmas story highlights this perfectly. Jesus was born in tough circumstances. He had parents who struggled with various shortcomings. He was born into a broken society, oppressed by the evils of colonialism and callousness. Yet God used all these circumstances to give us the gift of Jesus Christ.

Some Views on Miracles

Cartoon of Moses vs. Noah by artist Kaveh Adel

The central point of my sermon yesterday was that God’s work in our world–divine miracles–are in fact all around us. We also have the opportunity to “join in” with God’s work by enacting the love of Christ all around us. Here are a few thoughts and perspectives on the issue of miracles and faith…

Some folks may be curious about a brief point I made yesterday concerning God’s “fingerprint” on the world. Simply put, there is quite a lot of evidence that creation points towards a creator. One popular view of “miracles” is how God is evident in the world itself. Christian thinkers have often used the term fine-tuning to describe our universe. When we examine creation, it is akin to a complicated, well-crafted watch operating smoothly. Everything from our own bodies to the galaxies in the sky, appears as though they are well-designed and finely-tuned.

For instance, if our earth were any closer to the sun, that would put the atmosphere all out of whack. And if we were any further away, we would freeze to death. Various weights and charges of subatomic particles are so finely-tuned, that even the slightest “adjustments” would prevent organic chemicals like carbon or oxygen from forming at all. Our sun in the perfect size. The list goes on and on.

Another technical term for this is the anthropic principle, and you can read about many other fascinating examples of fine-tuning here and here!

I think too many Christians struggle with not valuing God’s creation enough. According to the Genesis account, God entrusted the world to us so that we might act as stewards of it. And tragically, we often fail to see God’s handiwork all around us. God has placed a unique, divine fingerprint across creation. Our universe, world, and even our own bodies reveal the beautiful truth that there is indeed a creator.

One debate theologians often have has to do with whether so-called “conventional” miraculous acts can still occur today. This has to do with things like gifts of the Holy Spirit. As you are probably aware, some denominations teach things like speaking in tongues and future-oriented prophecy. Other churches may be more nuanced in their believes, arguing that those things don’t happen nowadays as much or often as they used to. Is every “Jesus-type” miracle still a possibility today? Or did something change after the years of the early church?

The fancy theological terms for this debate are continuationism and cessationism (try saying those five times fast!). Continuationism, as the root implies, is the belief that miracle-working akin to healing to healing stories in Jesus’ time continue on for today. This belief is quite common among pentecostal or charismatic churches.

Cessationism, rooted in the word cease, is the opposing belief that shortly after the time of Jesus, miracle-working began to stop. The presence of the Holy Spirit kind of “wears off” the further we historically get away from Jesus.

(As you can probably guess, these are some very complicated issues to dive into for another time, blog post, sermon, or bible study!)

And one last personal note on miracles…

As I noted on Sunday, I think we often have tunnel vision in regards to this issue. We yearn for a mystical magic-type miracle, yet remain totally unaware to how God can move among our life in other ways.

One thing to keep in mind with all these various views and theological debates is this: The most important thing to our faith is Jesus Christ. The experience of a miracle, regardless of whether it is a “burning bush” or feeling God’s presence, is secondary to this primary purpose of our faith. God’s love ought to be central to our existence. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 apply to this closing thought:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Being “Son-Centered”

If you remember history or science class from schooling, you may recall a unique period of human history several hundred years ago. For ages, humans believed that the earth was the center of the universe. Everything else supposedly orbited around the earth. Top thinkers, political elites, and even the religious leaders were convinced of this geocentric model of the cosmos.

Statue of Copernicus in Poland

Things began to gradually change with people like scientists like Nicolaus Copernicus in the 1500s. He argued for what is known as a heliocentric view of the universe, that the sun is placed at the center, with all planets orbiting around it. As you might recall, this idea was rejected extensively at first. People like Galileo were even challenged by church authorities for teaching such contrary views! But ultimately, the Copernican Revolution changed the way people understood astronomy.

The “earth-centered” view might sound like a goofy sort of thing to believe, but for the longest time, it truly made sense with what people observed here on earth. Nowadays, we send people and objects into space on a regular basis. We can also track various movements not only in our solar system, but even millions of light years away. We take it for grated that we know about our orbit around the sun.

Theologian NT Wright once examined this unique chapter of scientific history and related it to how we formulate our faith life. Wright argues that we still struggle with having a “me-centered” sort of vision in regards to salvation, theology, and the purpose of Jesus Christ. So often we limit Christianity to mean having a personal relationship with God. Jesus cleanses us from our sins. We have a ticket to heaven. (Notice that the focus on the previous few sentences is not God, but rather our own human interests!).

This of course relates to how our culture celebrates the Christmas holiday. Even well-intentioned churches can fall prey to materialism and the belief that physical presents and such will bring about the most happiness. Too often we forget the true celebration and meaning of Christmas by overlooking the humble, revolutionary birth of Christ.

Now don’t get me (or Wright!) wrong. Having a personal encounter with God is incredibly powerful and impactful. But notice that having a personalized, privatized sort of faith places God as second to me. It is tempting to simply treat religion like a personal self-help mechanism instead of truly worshipping God for who God is.

In reality, when we follow Jesus, hopefully we believe him to be the most important thing above all else. Salvation should never be limited to your own enjoyment of things like eternal life and forgiveness. Rather, salvation is a celebration of what God does for us. NT Wright once put it this way in his book Justification:

God made humans for a purpose: not simply for themselves, not simply so that they could be in relationship with him, but so that through them, as his image-bearers, he could bring his wise, glad, fruitful order to the world.

This changes how we envision faith itself. God does not exist to give you first place. God is not an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” kind of transactional deity. Instead, God saves creation to bring about more enjoyment of God’s love. So this Advent season as we prepare for Christmas, instead of being me-centered, let’s be more Son-centered.

Knowing Nothing Except Christ

Our bible passage from Sunday’s sermon contains such a unique, profound, and revolutionary concept. As I preached, I noted that Paul’s approach to the Corinthian church’s problems consisted of getting back to the basics. Here is how he articulated his view in verse 2:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The only thing Paul is sure of is who Jesus is. If you think about it for a moment, this is a very strange statement. Surely Paul would claim to know other things, right? Instead of boasting about his credentials or personal accomplishments, however, he rests his knowledge in the cross alone.

I say this is a strange statement because we often are prideful about our knowledge and abilities. For starters, we love to know things (or at least think we know it all!). We crave to be an expert. We look up to other people who might be smarter. It is tempting to think we are correct while other people are wrong. We like to be sure of ourselves about everything, from opinions about sports and politics, to much more important things like life values. In fact, one of the most common ways people insult one another in our world is by challenging an individual’s intelligence. We use words like “idiot” and “stupid” to cut someone else down. Even in our insults and crude language do we find this toxic idolatry of self knowledge and assurance.

Our supposed desire for truth and being right is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it is embarrassing to be proven wrong. It’s uncomfortable to be corrected. But many times, we allow our hunger for being right to transform into a boastful attitude. Thinking that you know all the answers and that you could never be wrong is a dangerous, prideful way to go about life.

So Paul’s solution to the Corinthian church of knowing nothing except the crucified Christ is so opposite our desires to be right about everything. To Paul, the only “truth” that matters is who Jesus is. All the other things–our insignificant opinions about other matters–truly don’t matter in comparison to how we think about God.

So as you reflect on religious knowledge and our sermon on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience are ways God reveals truth to us), it is worth asking yourself this simple question: How can I be more confident in believing in Jesus this week?

When I get into an augment with my spouse… Will I try to prove him or her wrong above all else? Or will I remember to love that person like Jesus does and be slow to anger?

When a conflict happens at work or school… Will I be so addicted to “being right” that I run the risk of making everyone else miserable? Or will I be more humble and flexible about my knowledge?

When I see someone do something I disapprove of… Will I rush to judgment and condescension? Or will I try to be more understanding and helpful?

All those opinions we have don’t really matter compared to the truth found with Jesus Christ. Jesus died for the sins of our world and shows us how to live in God’s kingdom. That is the most important truth we could ever know.

An Overview of Grace

Several folks asked me on Sunday about John Wesley’s quirky writings on “home remedy” medicine… here is a link to his famous one: Primitive Physik, or An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases. Enjoy!

It can be difficult to summarize the entire message of God’s grace in just one sermon, so on the church blog this week, here’s a recap with several bible passages. What makes our Methodist approach to grace unique? The big idea is that we believe God’s grace is revealed to us in three main ways.

Prevenient Grace

Theologically speaking, prevenient grace (or “preventing grace” as John Wesley wrote of it) is God’s grace enabling us to make a decision for Christ. We humans are sinful and broken, and when faced with the choice between right and wrong, we will inevitably choose wrong. Fortunately, God’s grace works in our life and we are able to come to the knowledge of Christ. This might sound somewhat complex, but it really is quite simple: God works in our life even before we realize it! This idea of grace is supported by many bible verses:

  • Jeremiah 1:5- “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”
  • Luke 19:10- “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
  • John 12:32- “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself.”
  • Romans 2:4- “[Do you realize] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
  • 1 John 4:19- “We love him, because he first loved us.”

Justifying Grace

This is possibly the most common understanding of grace among Christians. When we accept Christ, we are granted new life in God’s kingdom. Something wonderful happens during this moment. We are justified and freed from our life of sin. We no longer face condemnation, but experience the love and redemption of God. As with the previous grace, there are many verses supporting this conception of grace:

  • Romans 3:28- “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
  • Romans 1:17- “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous person shall live by faith.”
  • Galatians 3:24- “Therefore the Law has become our teacher to lead us to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith.”

Sanctifying Grace

This kind of grace might be the most commonly forgotten one in our world today. When we accept Jesus, God’s grace ought to work in our lives and make a tangible difference in who we are. If we continue on in unrighteousness and disobedience, without feeling conviction, then chances are we haven’t experienced that grace in the first place! Following Jesus each and every day will inevitably lead you closer to Godly character. Consider these verses from the New Testament about sanctification:

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:23- “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • Galatians 2:20- “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17- “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
  • 1 John 1:9- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Here is a way to remember how all these kinds of graces connect with one another. God’s grace is like our interaction with a house. God’s prevenient grace is like the house we have not entered yet. Even before we go inside, God already created it for us to hopefully use. Justifying grace is when we walk through the doorway. Upon that process of entering, we get to initially encounter the benefits of the house. And finally, sanctifying grace is the ability to enjoy all the house has to offer us–dwelling inside of it, having shelter, and finding a place to belong. We continue to experience God’s grace or “house” even after the initial construction and our entering it.

What Is Your Treasure?

“St. Lawrence” by Cesare Francassini

There is an old story from the early church about a fellow named Saint Lawrence. At the time, the church was persecuted by the Roman Empire. If you followed the way of Jesus, that might even end up in martyrdom! But as the church grew in numbers, the leaders found themselves with more and more resources. Members of the faith community would donate out of their abundance and generously give to the church and its mission.

A Roman leader under Caesar’s command plotted to seize the supposed treasures of the church. Upon hearing this plan, Lawrence acted shrewdly and immediately took all the gold they had collected and distributed it to the poor of their community. When Lawrence was imprisoned and appeared before the public official to hand over the church’s treasure, Lawrence then brought a group of impoverished people–disabled, widowed, orphaned, and elderly–to stand before the Roman authorities. Lawrence motioned to these fellow poor brothers and sisters and said: “Behold, these are the treasures of the church!”

Lawrence’s witness reminds us that the church must always be in the business of helping out other people. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are the most valuable treasures the church could ever possess.

John Wesley realized this truth when he wrote that religion should never go from the greatest to the least, or that religion would be human-made.

Church sanctuaries and buildings might be nice for ministry. Proper budgeting can obviously help, too. Even having good stewardship and planning can help a church thrive and do Godly work in the community. But we must never forget that the most valuable thing is not found on paper, brick and mortar, or even a bank balance. The most valuable thing any church could possess is children of God.

Author CS Lewis once put it this way: God delights in you as an artist does in a piece of artwork. That means that God find you valuable and something to be cherished. We often need to remind ourselves of this timeless truth. Too often we define ourselves by what we make, the kind of career we have, or the reputation we develop among other people.

But we also need to remember that God thinks this way of absolutely everyone in the world, especially the downtrodden and lowly who truly need it. The one thing that might make the church “richer” and more treasured is your fellow neighbor who needs to experience the love of God.